Title: Red Skies Author: Joanne Kells Publisher:Dreamspinner Press Cover artist: Reese Dante Buy Link:Buy Link Red Skies Genre: Contemporary, Western Length: Novel (320 pdf pages) Rating:4.5 out of 5 Stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: Cowboy Jesse Wade must overcome his inhibitions and find closure to past guilt in order to find love and happiness in this well-written, if a bit drama-heavy contemporary Western tale.
The Blurb: Divorced after thirteen years, Jesse Wade leaves the only home he’s ever known and finds work in Eden, North Dakota, as a ranch hand. His next relationship—this one with a man—is turbulent and eventually falls apart. Five years later, Jesse is still guilt-ridden, keeping his past and sexuality a secret. Then he meets Ade Lardner, who breaks through the numbness surrounding Jesse’s heart. The affair rouses Jesse’s senses but is riddled with tragedy, and if Jesse and Ade are ever to find common ground, Jesse will have to decide if he wants to simply exist in the past or live passionately now and in the future.
The Review: After thirteen years, Jesse Wade leaves his dissatisfying marriage behind, taking a chance at a new beginning as a ranch hand. The job pays off well enough that Jesse can still support his beloved daughter Emma, and Jesse also strikes up a new relationship pretty fast – with Johnny, who owns a diner in Eden.
From the moment Jesse first lays eyes on Johnny, he feels
“… the switch turned on in his brain, feeling that something missing fall into place.”
But Jesse is afraid he’ll lose the right to see his daughter if anybody finds out about him and Johnny. His secretiveness becomes a hot-button issue between him and Johnny, since Johnny tries to force Jesse out of the closet to a point where Jesse can’t bear it anymore and leaves after three years. But when he ruefully returns to Johnny after a few weeks, willing to give in, he finds Johnny a drug addict and in the arms of another man. Shortly afterwards Johnny dies from an overdose, leaving Jesse in a turmoil of guilt and self-accusation.
Now, five years later, Jesse works as a foreman on the Lardner Ranch, and while he is comfortable with his professional life, he feels cold and dead inside. All he can feel is guilt and remorse over Johnny. But this changes when the ranch owner falls seriously ill and his son, Ade Lardner, comes home.
Ade has been working at water engineering with the peace corps. He left his home twelve years ago, partly because he liked working with water better than working with cattle, and partly because he wasn’t comfortable living as a gay man in Cowboy country. But now, with his father in the hospital, Ade feels he has to help with the ranch. The taciturn foreman immediately catches his attention. When Ade goes on a cattle drive with the men, he and Jesse come closer, but Jesse sends out confusingly mixed signals. It takes a while for them to find common ground. But now Jesse’s old misgivings about coming out of the closet and his past guilt and sorrow get into their way again and again. This time, Jesse is the one left behind when Ade flees back to his peace corps work in South America. Jesse must learn to work through his issues in order to find happiness and a stable relationship with the man he loves.
From the first chapter onward, this book jumps back and forth in time with Jesse’s and Johnny’s story told in flashbacks while Ade’s and Jesse’s story unfolds. What could have been confusing actually worked very well, mainly through clear and skillful writing, and also because the flashbacks were italicized and thus easily recognizable. Jesse’s backstory with Johnny took a lot of room, though, it felt a bit convolute, and parts of it didn’t feel really necessary for the main plot.
Told in Jesse’s and Ade’s alternating third person’s POV (with the main part of the narrative owned by Jesse), both main characters come alive nicely in the book. I found them both believable and consistent. Mainly Jesse went through an amazing process of self-discovery and growth that was fascinating to watch. Ade was a likeable, sweet man who nevertheless knew what he wanted. He was demanding enough to shake Jesse out of his emotional stupor, but confiding enough to give Jesse time and space.
From the secondary cast Ade’s father stood out. He was a great dad for Ade, understanding to a fault – almost to good in a larger-than-life way, but a great supporting character. I also liked Sandra, the Ranch secretary, and Emma, Jesse’s daughter.
The lovingly detailed worldbuilding created a strong feeling of place for the Lardner ranch, from the everyday farm life to the cattle drive, from the comradship among the cowboys to the landscape descriptions. Later, the outwardly details gave way to the inner workings of both Jesse and Ade, which fit the story flow since all those heavy issues they had to overcome were mostly their inner conflicts and took up a lot of space.
This was an angst – and drama – heavy read. The story touched on many difficult topics, among them self-denial, death of a loved one, self – discovery, drug addiction, mental disorder, guilt, shame, suicide… hard stuff, but handled sensibly. My biggest niggle was that the characters stood in their own ways at times; the old real-men-don’t-talk trope, particularly on Jesse’s part, made me want to shake some sense into him at times. Well, he grew out of that eventually. Also, there was one coincidence that stretched my ability to suspend disbelief very, very far, although it was necessary to forward the plot.
All in all, for those who are into angst and emotion and don’t mind a bit of drama, this is an engrossing, powerfully written story. I can recommend it.